On Friday October 4th, community volunteers from the Gas Leaks Allies met with Boston City Councilor Ed Flynn to show him some gas leaks in the South End that have been killing neighborhood trees over the past decades or more. Jackie Royce from the Green Committee of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay and Claire Corcoran of Mothers Out Front invited the City Councilor to meet with Bob Ackley of Gas Safety USA at the site of a known gas leak, outside the McKinley School on Dartmouth Street at the intersection of Warren Ave.
Bob Ackley, who founded Gas Safety USA as an independent contractor for finding and measuring gas leaks, demonstrated his technique for locating and identifying gas leaks. In this case he used the presence of one dead tree and one half dead tree as a clue that there may be gas leaking into the soil of the tree pit. He used his metal rod to excavate a tunnel into the subsoil, six inches deep. He then inserted his gas spectrometer instrument into the hole, where gas was detected at 30% (normal background atmospheric readings would expected to be less than 2%).
Claire Corcoran, a Massachusetts Certified Arborist, explained that the below-ground tree biomass requires oxygen for respiration. When this oxygen is displaced with gas, the roots eventually die, which leads to the death of the above ground part of the tree, often starting at the top or on the side with a high concentration of gas.
The group then visited another large gas leak, this one located on Columbus Avenue near the intersection of Pembroke Street on the south side of the street. This leak had killed an 18-inch diameter pin oak tree, estimated at over 50 years old. Bob’s measurements showed that the soil in this tree pit had gas at 40% concentration.
According to the Forest Service’s online tool called iTree, this tree when alive provided $95.71 worth of ecosystem benefits annually, including carbon sequestration, storm water runoff interception, and pollution mitigation, as well as $47.03 worth of energy savings to the nearest building.
Gas leaks are caused by the deterioration of our gas infrastructure, 46% of which is considered “leak prone” pipe in the City of Boston. This escaped gas is paid for by consumers in the rates set by the DPU, and in addition to harming street trees, it is a major cause of climate change. The Gas Leaks Allies are promoting a strategy they call “Triage and transition,” which calls for a rapid repair of the largest gas leaks, while accelerating a transition to renewable geothermal energy for home heating and cooling. The Gas Leaks Allies thank Councilor Flynn for his leadership at the City Council and for treating this as a public safety and public health issue, as well as an issue of social and environmental justice.